While perusing the forums over on Amazon.com, I came across a discussion labeled: “Should there be content ratings on Amazon?” (here) I immediately cringed before I even clicked on the link. Visions of 1984 began running through my mind. My first response to this was: who would be responsible for the ratings?
If you read my recent blog post about the new Mortal Kombat video game (here), you know how I feel about the government trying to get involved in the ratings of video games that is currently very well managed internally by the industry via the ESRB. The government taking over content ratings would be a slippery slope right down the future that George Orwell feared when he wrote 1984. How would the content ratings be determined?
The MPAA and ESRB are able to set guidelines based on what occurs visually or audibly on the screen. I could definitely see it easy to explore content ratings based on, say, language. Well, there’s an F-bomb, up that rating to 16+. Easy. How about an issue with violence, though. For example, take the following random sentence:
“The knight stabbed the villain’s stomach with his sword.”
To borrow the MPAA ratings terminology, is that R-rated violence or PG-rated violence? The beauty of books is that each reader will picture that slightly differently. If you’re macabre, you may picture blood, guts, and other such gore. If you’re a little more innocent, you might picture less of such things. Who determines violence level in books, then? I would have the same argument in terms of sexual content.
So, clearly, a governing body (which the publishing industry, unlike the film and gaming industries, does not have set up) to create content is not the answer. Who, then, would be responsible? Each publisher tries to classify their books as best as they can to the audience that would want to purchase them. An erotica book would not sell if classified as young adult and vice versa. I would never try to sell my books to someone who only reads trashy romance novels, either. It’s just bad business and a waste of efforts.
To answer the original post, though, the adding of “content ratings” to Amazon is ultimately superfluous, because two of the things that make Amazon such a consumer-friendly place to shop in the first place are the customer reviews and tagging system. If you are Christian and are afraid of exposing your children to anti-Christian themes (like Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials), just read the reviews. You’ll find it very easy to see reviewers discussing the atheist themes that Pullman uses.
Why propose a new system when the current one works? The answer is that parents don’t want to have to read and think and make decisions on their own anymore (see my blog post about Disney World & Kid Leashes for a different rant about lazy parents). They want a big black sticker on the cover that says “BAD” to make parental decisions for them. Instead, maybe parents should actually take an interest in what their kids are watching, playing, or reading and see for themselves if they agree with the content. Or, at the end of the day, maybe you should just be happy they’re actually reading a book in this day and age–regardless of content.